|Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority|
d/b/a The Steamship Authority
|Area served||Cape Cod and the Islands|
|Number of lines||2|
|Chief executive||Robert B. Davis (General Manager)|
|Headquarters||Falmouth, MA (regulatory body)|
Woods Hole, MA (ferry service)
|Number of vehicles||10 ferry vessels|
The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, doing business as The Steamship Authority (SSA), is the statutory regulatory body for all ferry operations between mainland Massachusetts and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well an operator of ferry services between the mainland and the islands. It is the only ferry operator to carry automobiles to and from the islands. The Authority also operates several freight vessels, thus serving as the main link for shipping any commercial goods that are not transported using the airports on Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard.
Early Nantucket service
The Steamship Authority's roots trace back to the 1833-established Nantucket Steamboat Company.
Demand for regular steamship service between Cape Cod and Nantucket increased following the opening of the Cape Cod Railroad's Hyannisport station in 1854. The same year, the company built a terminal near the rail station and renamed itself the Nantucket and Cape Cod Steamboat Company. The company's two vessels, Telegraph and Massachusetts, now began to only serve Hyannis, rather than making the longer trip to Woods Hole and New Bedford. In 1855, the steamships were replaced by the Island Home, the company's first vessel specifically engineered for the Nantucket Sound.
Early Martha's Vineyard service
Following the opening of the Hyannis terminal, the New Bedford, Vineyard and Nantucket Steamboat Company was formed in 1854 to provide service with the Eagle's Wing between the namesake destinations and Woods Hole. When the competing Island Home service began in 1885, though, Eagle's Wing ceased serving Nantucket (as well as New Bedford) due to low ridership.
The railroad station at Woods Hole, which opened in 1872, had a similar effect on steamship demand. Both the railroad and early steamboat services were at one point owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (NYNHH).
20th century consolidation
The NYNHH, realizing financial troubles, sold the ferry services known at the time as the New England Steamship Company to Massachusetts Steamship Lines on December 31, 1945. In 1948, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced its intent to consolidate the private ferry services into a state-owned entity. This created the New Bedford, Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, which began in 1949. The Massachusetts legislature dropped "New Bedford" from the company's name in 1960. The last steamship in regular service was the Nobska, which ran the Woods Hole–Nantucket route until 1973.
Several current vessels utilize names that have been a part of Island culture for many years. The "Nantucket" name has existed across four ships: the current MV Nantucket (1974-), the SS Nantucket (1957-1987, renamed Naushon in 1974), the steamboat Nobska (1925-1973, known as Nantucket from 1925 to 1958), and the original Nantucket, the which saw service from 1886-1910. Similarly, "Martha's Vineyard" has seen service on three vessels: the current MV Martha's Vineyard (1993-), the SS Martha's Vineyard (1923-1956, known as SS Islander until 1928), as well as the steamboat Martha's Vineyard (1871-1910). Additionally the MV Island Home (2007-), MV Sankaty (1994-), and MV Gay Head (1989-) have all seen service on older steamships, the Island Home (1855-1890), the Sankaty (1911-1924), and the Gay Head (1891-1924).
Frequent passenger and auto ferry service is operated to the Martha's Vineyard towns of Vineyard Haven year round, and to Oak Bluffs from Memorial Day to Labor Day from the mainland terminal in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Sailing time is approximately 45 minutes to both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs.
In early 2001, the SSA purchased the 130-foot (40 m) MV Schamonchi, along with the New Bedford-Martha's Vineyard route. She provided passenger-only service on this route until 2003, generating operating losses of about $800,000 per year. The vessel has since been sold, and a year-round high-speed catamaran service is now operated between New Bedford and Vineyard Haven (and seasonally to Oak Bluffs) by Seastreak. 
Year round passenger and auto ferry, as well as freight service is operated to Nantucket from the mainland terminal in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Sailing time to Nantucket takes approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes. A one-hour, passenger only catamaran service, is operated with the MV Iyanough from mid April through late December from Hyannis to Nantucket. From 2000 to 2007, this service was operated with the MV Flying Cloud.
State regulatory body
In addition providing ferry service, the Steamship Authority (hence the name) regulates the many commercial aspects of ferry operations to and from the Islands (those that are not regulated by the US Coast Guard). All scheduled passenger ferry operations carrying over 40 people to and from the Islands must, by law, be approved by the Steamship Authority. This generally precludes any ferry service that would directly compete with the Steamship Authority, essentially giving it a legal monopoly on all auto ferry service to the Islands.
However, approval has been granted to other companies to operate smaller passenger ferry operations to the islands, including Freedom Cruises (Harwich Port to Nantucket), Seastreak (New Bedford to Oak Bluffs and Nantucket), Rhode Island Fast Ferry (North Kingstown, Rhode Island to Oak Bluffs , the Pied Piper Edgartown Ferry (Falmouth to Edgartown).
Services established prior to May 1973, which include Hy-Line Cruises (Hyannis, Nantucket, and Oak Bluffs) and the Island Queen (Falmouth to Oak Bluffs), are allowed to provide certain services as grandfathered carriers due to their existence prior to current regulations. However, any additional new services must be licensed by the Authority.
The Steamship Authority is governed by a five-person board composed of one resident from Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Falmouth, Barnstable, and New Bedford, with each resident confirmed by the appropriate local government entity. The board's current chair is James Malkin of Martha's Vineyard.
The authority also has an advisory board known as the Port Council, composed of one resident from Barnstable, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Nantucket, New Bedford, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury. The current chair of this board is Edward Anthes-Washburn of New Bedford.
The Steamship Authority currently operates ten vessels. Six passenger ferries are predominantly used for transporting passengers and personal cargo, five of which also accept cars and trucks. The remaining four ferries are open-top and primarily used for larger trucks and freight, although ordinary passengers and automobiles are usually allowed, space permitting.
|Image||Vessel||Service began||Type||Route(s) served||Notes|
|MV Nantucket||1974||ROPAX||Hyannis–Nantucket (winters)
Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)
|Built in Jacksonville|
|MV Eagle||1987||ROPAX||Hyannis–Nantucket (year-round)||Built by McDermott Shipyard (Morgan City)|
|MV Katama||1988||Freight||Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard||Sister ship of MV Gay Head. To exit service and be replaced by MV Monomoy. |
|MV Gay Head||1989||Freight||Hyannis–Nantucket||Sister ship of MV Katama. To exit service and be replaced by MV Aquinnah. |
|MV Martha's Vineyard||1993||ROPAX||Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)||Built by Atlantic Marine (Jacksonville)|
|MV Sankaty||1994||Freight||Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard||Built in 1981 by Rysco Shipyard|
|MV Governor||1998||Freight||Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard||Backup passenger vessel, formerly Governor's Island ferry|
|MV Island Home||2007||ROPAX||Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)||Built by VT Halter Marine (Moss Point)|
|MV Iyanough||2007||Passenger||Hyannis–Nantucket (summers)||High-speed catamaran, built by Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding (Somerset), named after Hyannis sachem Iyannough|
|MV Woods Hole||2016||ROPAX||Hyannis–Nantucket (summers)
Woods Hole–Martha's Vineyard (year-round)
|Built by Conrad Shipyard (Morgan City)|
This list includes earlier vessels that were operated by private companies, many of which were incorporated into the modern Steamship Authority.
|Image||Vessel||Service began||Service ended||Notes|
|Eagle||1818||1818||First commercial steamboat service to Nantucket, sailed from New Bedford from May to September until being sold due to low ridership|
|Connecticut||1824||1824||Operated for two months|
|Hamilton||1828||1828||Operated for two months, ceased service due to low ridership|
|Telegraph||1832||1858||Replaced by Island Home|
|Massachusetts||1842||1858||Replaced by Island Home|
|Naushon||1846||1848||Renamed News Boy after sale|
|George Law||1854||1854||Chartered for one month|
|Eagle's Wing||1854||1861||Destroyed in a fire, engine was salvaged for the Monohansett|
|Island Home||1855||1890||Namesame of the modern MV Island Home, later converted to a coal barge|
|Jersey Blue||1856||1857|
|Monohansett||1862||1902||Chartered by the federal government to carry dispatches to U.S. Navy ships in the American Civil War from August 1862 to June 1865|
|River Queen||1871||1893||Purchased from the Newport Steamboat Company, sold to the Mount Vernon & Marshall Hall Steamboat Company|
|Nantucket||1886||1910||Namesake of the modern MV Nantucket|
|Gay Head||1891||1924||Built to replace Island Home|
|Uncatena||1902||1928||Last sidewheeler in service, built to replace Monohansett|
|Sankaty||1911||1924||Built to replace Martha's Vineyard, sold to the New England Steamship Company|
|SS Islander (1923–28)
SS Martha's Vineyard (1928–56)
|1923||1956||Built to replace Gay Head, sold to Rhode Island Steamship Lines|
|Nobska (1925–28, 1956–73)
|1925||1973||Whistle installed on the Eagle in 1987, sold to Friends of Nobska in 1988|
|New Bedford||1928||1942||Requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration and participated in the Invasion of Normandy|
|Naushon||1929||1942||Requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration and participated in the Invasion of Normandy|
|Gay Head (LSM 286)||1947|
|Islander||1947||c. 1951||Built in 1901, originally the Hackensack|
|MV Islander||1950||2007||First diesel vessel, sold to Governor's Island|
|SS Nantucket (1957–74)
|1957||1987 ||Sold to Bay State Cruises|
|MV Uncatena||1965||1993||Lengthened by 52 feet in 1971, sold to Casino Miami and renamed Entertainer|
|Auriga||1973||c. 1989|
|Flying Cloud||2000||2007||Catamaran high-speed ferry, sold to Gran Cacique in 2008 and now the MV Gran Cacique IV in Venezuela|
|Schamonchi||2001||2003||Built in 1978, sold into private ownership in 2005|
Accidents and incidents
In 2007, it was reported that Steamship Authority and Hy-Line ferries were dumping sewage into Nantucket Sound. The process was legal as ferries are permitted to release waste once 3 miles (4.8 km) offshore. The authority later announced it would pump sewage off ferries at its terminals, which it did so beginning in 2011.
During the first four months of 2018, 549 ferry trips were cancelled between Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth due to mechanical problems on the ferry boats. The majority of the mechanical problems occurred on the Woods Hole-Vineyard Haven route. The rate of cancellations in 2018 was approximately 15 times the yearly average of breakdowns and cancellations. A private consultant brought in to find the underlying cause behind the cancellations found mismanagement with "penny wise, pound foolish" investments and competing factions within the organization.
The Steamship Authority was the victim of a ransomware attack in June 2, 2021, which affected the ticketing and reservation system.  The Steamship Authority did not pay a ransom, and the website was operational again by June 12.
- "About". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
- "Vessels". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- "The Steamship Authority". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- James P. Warbasse, Jr. "From Sail to Steam to Diesel" (PDF). Woods Hole Historical Museum. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- Ashe, Ivy (July 11, 2013). "A History Shaped by State Politics". Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
- Dunlop, Tom (July 30, 1999). "Steamers of 20th Century Bound Island Ever Closer to Mainland". Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- Clark, Barbara (May 1, 2015). "'Steamboats to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket'". The Barnstable Patriot. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- "History & Organization". The Steamship Authority. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- Kinsella, James (July 5, 2005). An Old Ferry Sails to New York; Schamonchi Reborn as Party Boat. Vineyard Gazette Online.
- "Routes & Schedules for NYC, NJ, Martha's Vineyard | Seastreak Ferries".
- Jenness, Amy (April 23, 2015). "This Week in Nantucket History – Steaming Home". Yesterday's Island. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- Banks, Charles E., The History of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Volume I. (Dukes County Historical Society, 1911)
- Turner, Harry B. The Story of the Island Steamers (The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1910) 
- The Dukes County Intelligencer. Vol. 24, No. 4. May 1983
- "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". (August 1, 2010). Martha's Vineyard Magazine.
- Zimmermann, Karl (August 1, 2010). "Final Chapter: The Islander and Other Bygone Ferries". Martha's Vineyard Magazine. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- "Steam-Powered Ferry Makes Its Final Run". (October 31, 1987). The Boston Globe.
- "Cloud lingers over fast ferry". Cape Cod Times. April 19, 2006. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- "SSA Sells Ferry to Venezuelan Company in $3.9 Million Deal". Vineyard Gazette. June 26, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
- "Steamship Authority Will Buy Schamonchi; Deal Opens Door to New Bedford Service". (January 11, 2001). Vineyard Gazette.
- Ebbert, Stephanie (September 23, 2007). "Sewage concerns shake sound". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
- Rocheleau, Matt (2018-05-11). "Cancellations on Martha's Vineyard ferry skyrocket". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
- Steamship Authority suffers from 'penny-pinching' mentality, report says
- "Coast Guard makes more details of ferry crash public". The Cape Cod Times. 12 June 2019. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
- "Ferry crashes in Hyannis Harbor". The Boston Globe. 16 June 2017.
- "At least nine people were injured in a high-speed ferry crash in Massachusetts". NewsWeek. 17 June 2017.
- "At least six injured after ferry crashes into jetty in Mass". USA Today. 17 June 2017.
- Hill, Jessica (June 4, 2021). "'Critical lifeline': How Steamship Authority ransomware attack affects ticketing all over". Cape Cod Times. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
- "Steamship Authority Says It Did Not Pay Ransom In Disruptive Cyberattack". WBZ Boston. 2021-06-22.
- Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the State Auditor (July 19, 2017). Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority: for the period January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2015 (Report). hdl:2452/127958.